Glossary of Writer’s Terms

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Advance: payment by a publisher to the author before the book is published; it is deducted from the author’s future royalties.

Alpha Male: a term used to describe a macho male character within a romance.

Antagonist: the character that opposes your lead character, often referred to as the villain.

Archetypes: Certain character traits that appear in many stories. Such as the Alpha Male or the Virginal Heroine.


Back Story: The events of character’s life up to the point of the first page of the story, the character’s past.

Backlist: books not published during the current season by the publisher but are still in print.

Beta Male: a term used to describe the sensitive male character within a romance.


Category Romance: A story in which the relationship between the hero and heroine is the focus, published as part of line such as Harlequin or Silhouette.

Character: The people within the story.

Character Sketch: A brief description of a character’s physical appearance.

Conflict: Friction, tensions or opposition that keeps the characters from reaching their goals. For more information check out the Romance Section of Mystic Visions.

Contributor’s Copy (abbreviation: CC): A copy of a book or magazine sent to the author in which their work appears. Sometimes used as payment for work.

Copyright: The legal right to exclusive publication, distribution or sale of written work.

Cover Art: Artwork on the cover of a book.

Cover Letter: A brief introductory letter sent to a publisher with a submission.


Dialogue: A term to describe the action of characters talking.


Electronic Rights: The right to publish work in a digital format (CD-ROM, Disk, Online, ect.)

Erotic: A term used to refer to a sexually explicit story.


Fantasy: Stories that include mythical creatures and often magic. Often set in medieval worlds with medieval characters.

Futuristic: Stories set in the future with science fiction elements. Often involving other planets, futuristic earth, aliens and space travel.


Genre: The category in which a story is placed. Fantasy and Paranormal are both examples of genres.

Gothic: A dark story often containing elements or suspense or paranormal.

Guidelines (abbreviation: GL): Instructions for submissions set by individual publisher. Often referred to as Writer’s Guidelines or Tip Sheets.


Heroine: The lead female character in a story.

Hero: The lead male character in a story.

Hook: The first line, paragraph or page that draws the reader into the story.


I.S.B.N.: International Standard Book Number.

Imprint: A specific line of books by the publisher.


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Lead Books: Single title books that are placed on the top of the Publisher’s list, generally receiving the most publicity.


Manuscript (abbreviation: Ms(s)): A term used to describe the pages of a book (the author’s copy before the story has been printed and bound in novel form).

Manuscript Format: A term used to describe the standards to which a manuscript should be displayed (typed).

Mass Market Paperback: Paperback books found in a variety of places (other than bookstores, such as supermarkets and drug stores).

Motivation: The force (goal) that enables that character to overcome conflicts and drives the character through the story.

Multiple Submission: A term used to describe submitting more than more work to the same publisher (for example sending the same publisher two articles to consider at the same time).


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One-Time Rights: Rights to a work to be published one time only.

Outline: The summary of the story, often divided by chapters or plot points.


Page Rate: A fixed rate paid to an author per page.

Paranormal: Stories involving aspects of the metaphysical or occult, often including such things as vampires, ghosts and telepathy.

Payment on Acceptance: Indicates that the publisher will send payment for the work when the submitted manuscript is accepted.

Payment on Publication: Indicates that the publisher will send payment for the work when the manuscript is published.

Plot: The basic idea of the story, the action that moves the story from the beginning to the end.

Point of View (abbreviation: POV): The viewpoint in which the story is told (first, second or third person).

Print On Demand: Books printed as they are sold rather than printed in large quantities.

Protagonist: The lead character in a story.

Pseudonym: A fake name used by writers when he/she does not wish to use their real name. Often times a made-up name or variation of the author’s real name.


Query Letter: A letter sent to a publisher or agent inquiring if her/she is interested in seeing your work.


Reading Fee: A charge to the author for reading the manuscript. Often a frowned upon expense in the publishing world, be leery of business that charge a reading fee.

Reprint Rights: Permission to print a work that has been previously published.

Response Time: The turnaround time in which an author will hear back from a publisher about their submission. Sometimes abbreviated RT and also called Reporting Time.

Royalty: A percentage of the retail price of a book paid to the author on each book that is sold.


S.A.S.E.: – Self Address Stamped Envelope, an envelope addressed to the author including postage that is included with a submission to a publisher. Usually used for the publisher to contact the author regarding his/her submission.

Secondary Characters: Minor characters within a story that help further the development of the lead characters and the plot. Also called minor characters or background characters.

Simultaneous Submission: A term used to describe submitting a manuscript to more than one publisher at a time.

Single Title: A book that is not published in a line.

Slush Pile: Unsolicited submissions waiting review at a publishing house.

Subgenre: A category within a genre. Fantasy Romance and Paranormal Romance are both subgenres of the Romance genre.

Synopsis: A comprehensive summary of a book from beginning to end, usually condensed to a few pages. Often sent with a submission.


Tagline: Identification of the speaker attached to a line of dialogue. “He said” or “She said” are examples of a tagline.

Time Travel: A story in which the lead characters are transported to another time. Mostly commonly the characters will travel back in time, where the majority of the story takes place.

Trade Paperback: Paperback books found in bookstores.


Unsolicited Manuscript: A submission of a story that the editor did not request.


Vanity Publisher: A publishing house that charges the author to publish their work. Often called Self-Publishing.


Word Length: General word length (variations of this list may be possible depending on the publisher).

Flash Fiction: under 1,000 words
Short Story: 1,000 – 7,500 words
Novelette: 7,500 – 17,500 words
Novella: 17,500 – 40,000 words
Novel: over 40,000

(some electronic publishers consider a work of 30,000 words or more a novel)


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© 2002 by The Fiction Forum

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One Response to “Glossary of Writer’s Terms”

  1. Shannen Wrass says:

    Thanks for this list. I learned a lot.

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